Background photo by Don Sylor

Bobby Byrne

Restaurateur & Bartender

Dan Cutrona

I grew up in Taunton, so the Cape was not unfamiliar to me. When I was in college, I came down here and tended bar in the summertime. The attraction to this place was one of having fun.At one point, I was teaching English at New Bedford High School. That place had the best library I’d ever seen in a public high school—it had pilot courses in world literature, limited class sizes, and so forth. That was around 1958, ‘59, ‘60, when people were serious about education. My father worked in Los Angeles. He said, “Come out here, I’ll educate you, and you can be a bar boy.” I went out there to teach English, and I only lasted one semester. It was horrible. So I said, “To hell with it, I’ll just tend bar.”

By the time I came to Cape Cod, I had already spent 17 years tending bar all over the place—Detroit, New York, everywhere. Tending bar is a really interesting thing to do if you look at it as having a greater dimension than just serving drinks. It’s a chess game.
I came here to work at the New Seabury Country Club. That’s where I met Phil Rollins, who was the assistant district attorney at the time. I had written a book that went unpublished called Most Things Break. That’s a line from the book Mr. Flood’s Party, about a drunk in Maine. There’s a line in it: “He set the jug down slowly at his feet. With trembling care knowing that most things break.” It was a surrealistic novella, an eight-hour journey through the mind of a bartender working on the East Side of New York. I packed every character I knew from all over into this thing.  Rollins read it and he said, “Jeez, you should have your own bar.” So eventually, he put in five grand, and I put in four grand, and we opened Bobby Byrne’s. The idea was to have a strictly New York, Third Avenue saloon—in Mashpee.

The first time I paid any attention to Mashpee was when I came here in 1973. Town hall was further downtown, not where it is now. New Seabury hadn’t blown up as much as it did later on. The economy wasn’t good then, if I remember correctly. We had some long nights where no one would come in. I just remember those years being very lean and pretty tough. The shopkeepers and saloonkeepers had to be very cautious and live within their means.

Fields surrounded this area where we are now in Mashpee. The part of the bar near the door was a barbershop. In the back by the kitchen was a maintenance facility for New Seabury. There was a drug store on the corner, and across from there was a hardware store. There was a movie theatre that would show maybe four movies—when it was slow, my ex-wife would go to the movies. But I stayed at the bar and stayed open every night until 1 a.m. I never closed. There would be nobody in here for two hours, but I never closed. I knew that you had to send out a signal that you were always open. I tended bar every night for six years.

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Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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The Old Indian Church, Mashpee, Cape Cod, Mass

The Old Indian Church, Mashpee, Cape Cod, Mass